Over 2,800 new COVID cases logged for 2nd straight day; 400 in serious condition

Positive test rate again reaches 3.5% as Israel appears headed to renewed restrictions; top health officials enter quarantine after exposure to virus carrier

A Magen David Adom medical worker test Israelis for coronavirus at a mobile testing site in Jerusalem on December 16, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A Magen David Adom medical worker test Israelis for coronavirus at a mobile testing site in Jerusalem on December 16, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Thursday morning reported over 2,800 new coronavirus cases for a second straight day, as renewed lockdown measures to contain the pandemic appeared days away from being imposed.

In its daily report, the ministry said 2,802 infections were confirmed on Wednesday, down slightly from the 2,891 recorded Tuesday, which saw the highest daily caseload since October 12.

The ministry said 80,671 tests were performed Wednesday, with 3.5 percent coming back positive. That matched Tuesday’s mark, which was the highest daily positivity rate in almost two months for a weekday.

Active virus cases further climbed to 21,544, with 400 people in serious condition, including 150 on ventilators. The number of serious cases was below 350 at the start of the week.

Israelis wearing face maks walk past a Christmas tree and a church outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, on December 16, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Another 162 people were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

The death toll stood at 3,033, up two fatalities from Wednesday night.

With another 524 cases confirmed since midnight, the number of infections since the pandemic began rose to 366,182.

The basic reproduction rate, a figure representing the average number of people every carrier infects, was 1.23. Any value over one means the virus infection rate is increasing. The rate was far higher among the ultra-Orthodox, at 1.58, signaling an acceleration in the spread of COVID-19 in Haredi areas.

The government has set a benchmark of a weekly average of 2,500 daily cases or a basic reproduction rate of 1.32 to reimpose restrictions.

Hebrew media reports said Thursday that the high-level coronavirus cabinet would convene Sunday, when it was expected to discuss reimposing restrictions.

Meanwhile, Chezy Levy, the director-general of the Health Ministry, entered quarantine after exposure to a coronavirus carrier eight days ago.

“The director-general was tested tonight for coronavirus virus and the result of the test was negative. He feels good and is continuing to manage the national vaccination campaign from his home,” a ministry statement said on Thursday morning.

Sharon Alroy-Preis, the acting head of the ministry’s public health services division, and an unspecified number of other Health Ministry workers also entered quarantine.

Chezy Levy, director-general of the Health Ministry, speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus on September 17, 2020. (Flash90)

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said that if cases continue to rise, the government would need to approve its “tightened restrictions” plan.

“We’re on the way there, unfortunately,” he told Channel 12 news.

The is expected to include the closure of shops, malls, and outdoor markets, as well as schools in high infection areas. Channel 12 news said health officials believe commerce could be shuttered within five days.

According to the network, if those moves do not successfully bring down the infection rate, Israel could reach a full lockdown in three weeks’ time.

Israel has already had two national lockdowns since the outbreak began in March. Some restrictions from the second lockdown, limiting public life, are still in place since mid-September.

The warnings of renewed restrictions come as Israel prepares to launch a mass vaccination program next week, with the government setting a target of 60,000 vaccinations a day once the drive begins, meaning two million Israelis could be vaccinated by the end of January.

Along with some four million doses from Pfizer expected to arrive by the end of the month, Channel 12 said Wednesday that another four million were expected to come by the end of March for a total of eight million doses — enough to vaccinate four million people.

The network said Moderna’s vaccine, which could receive emergency approval from US regulators within days, as well as a vaccine being produced by AstraZeneca, are not expected to arrive in Israel earlier than April.

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at Rady Children’s Hospital before it’s placed back in the refrigerator in San Diego, California on December 15, 2020. (Ariana Drehsler/AFP)

Channel 12 also reported Wednesday that the Health Ministry is seeking to reinstate mandatory quarantine for all Israelis returning to the country from abroad, including from countries with low infection rates. Currently, only those entering Israel from “red” or high infection areas are required to self-isolate.

A decision on the matter is expected Thursday, Channel 12 reported, and if the Health Ministry’s position is accepted, the new quarantine orders are expected to take effect in a week, according to the network.

The report comes amid concerns that Israelis returning from abroad are helping fuel a resurgence in coronavirus infections, particularly those coming from the United Arab Emirates.

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